Joseph Hansen

Antoinette Konikow Mourned By Comrades

Written: 1946 and published in The Militant Vol. 10, No. 28, July 13, 1946, pp.1-2.
Transcribed/HTML Markup: Marty Goodman & David Walters, January 2017.
Public Domain: Joseph Hansen Internet Archive, 2006. You can freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Marxists Internet Archive as your source, include the url to this work, and note the transcribers & proofreaders above.

BOSTON, Mass., July 3 – At 9:15 yesterday morning, Antoinette Konikow, one of the great pioneer builders of American revolutionary socialism, a founder of the Socialist Workers Party and an Honorary Member of its National Committee, died of a heart attack. One of the best-loved champions of the labor movement, the suddenness of her death came as a shock to thousands of workers in Boston and throughout the country. She was almost 77 years old.

Thus closed a most valiant career of self-sacrifice and devotion to the cause of world socialism. Antoinette Konikow was born November 19, 1869, in Czarist Russia. Almost six decades of that life &ndashh; since 1888 – were spent in the battle to end capitalism and build a better world.

Although ill for some time, Comrade Konikow had been in excellent spirits. Never had she felt more confident of the final victory of socialism. In the morning, her daughter, Edith Konikow, had persuaded her to stay in bed while breakfast was prepared. When Edith called upstairs some ten minutes later, the old revolutionary did not answer. The end had come swiftly and painlessly. Neither artificial respiration nor the pul-motor of the emergency squad could revive the heart which had beat so long in the cause of the oppressed.

Funeral services were held today at 11 a.m. in accordance with wishes of the immediate family.

Laid To Rest

In charge was the Workmen’s Circle. Comrade Konikow was one of the founders of this workers’ benefit organization. All her life had been spent in the cause of the working class. Now in death, the workers laid her tenderly to rest.

The services were simple – the plain casket of a worker and the words of close friends and comrades to bid her farewell. The most eloquent tribute came from the Boston workers who loved her. They banked flowers around her casket. Red carnations, the flower of working class revolution, and red roses. The floral offering that epitomized the life of Antoinette Konikow was a hammer and sickle with a “4” to represent the Fourth International. That tribute came from the National Committee of the Socialist Workers Party in token of the sentiments of the whole world-wide movement which is now advancing Leon Trotsky’s program of revolutionary socialism as the only way to escape atomic destruction under capitalism.

At a banquet in New York City on October 30, 1943, commemorating the Fifteenth Anniversary of the founding of the American Trotskyist movement, Antoinette Konikow declared: “I have always been a rebel and have led a life of struggle. But It has been a thrilling life. I probably will not see the time when you will win. When you do, please come and lay the red flag on my grave.”

“Always A Rebel”

This indomitable spirit, characteristic of Antoinette, pervaded the funeral. All the speakers cited her life as the only kind really worth while. And thinking of Antoinette alive – her boundless vitality, her courage, her indomitable fighting will, her unrelenting struggle against the capitalist exploiters, the way she kept the goal of a socialist society before her for so many years when all the doubters and the weak ones dropped by the wayside – it was a sharp pain to remember that all this is gone now— all this, and her voice, and her hands and the way her eyes smiled.

I spoke on behalf of the staff of The Militant to which Antoinette had been a contributor since the founding of the paper. It was not easy to speak at Antoinette’s funeral. I would rather have sat with those Boston comrades who mourned her as one closer than a mother.

A picture came into my mind of a great warming bonfire in the night. Antoinette was like that. She was one of those who wind of the capitalist night. Antoinette was like that. She was one of those who brought us the heritage of the first founding fathers of scientific socialism. Frederick Engels headed the movement when she joined in 1888. She was a member of the group organized by Plekhanov who brought scientific socialism into Czarist Russia. She saw the rise of the Second International and saw it broken by betrayal. She joined with Lenin and Trotsky, the founders of the first workers’ state in history and helped in the birth of the Third International. When Stalinism ate into its vitals, as opportunism had eaten into the vitals of the Second International, she joined Leon Trotsky in the great historic struggle that led to the founding of the Fourth International.

Standing beside her casket, I knew that the real fire that had inspired Antoinette Konikow was not dead. The flame dies down and turns to ashes. But sparks are already in the wind. They touch waiting tinder and the blaze starts up afresh in a hundred places.

Pledge To Carry On

Sidney Crabbe of the Boston Branch of the Socialist Workers Party presided at the services. He read telegrams from all over the country, grieving Comrade Konikow’s death. The roster of the party’s branches in great cities from coast to coast showed how deeply Antoinette is enshrined in the hearts of the political vanguard of the American working class. All the senders of these tributes pledged to carry on the great cause to which she had devoted her life.

Comrade Crabbe introduced as the next speaker, Dr. Louis Silver, an old personal friend of Antoinette. Dr. Silver described her fine personality, her warm understanding of people and her response to their needs whenever they brought their problems to her. He told what countless friends she had in Boston. In the history of the city she had played a great role in bringing the ideas of socialism from Europe to America. Even her political foes, he pointed out, could not help admiring her character. Her devotion to the cause of emancipating the working class, made one feel ashamed for doing so little. Her unshakable will in battling tirelessly for her ideals throughout the years was something worth emulating.

Accomplished Linguist

Saul Friedman spoke in behalf of the District Committee of the Workmen’s Circle. He described Antoinette’s role in founding that organization. Already proficient in English and French besides Russian and German, she learned Jewish [*] in order to carry out her work for the Workmen’s Circle. Comrade Konikow was not Jewish herself, but in the early days of the labor movement the program of revolutionary socialism found its warmest reception among the immigrants from Eastern Europe who were terribly oppressed in the sweat shops of America. In memory of Antoinette’s work in those days, Comrade Friedman delivered part of his remarks in Jewish.

E.R. Frank represented the National Committee of the Socialist Workers Party. In moving terms he told, what Antoinette meant to the Trotskyist movement. She was “one of the rarest spirits of our time,” he said. “Her entire conscious life from the age of 19 when she first entered the working class movement in 1888, right up to the hour of her death, was devoted to the revolutionary struggle, was dedicated to the cause of socialism, the emancipation of mankind from the horrors and fears and terrors of capitalism and the creation of a new society of brotherhood, of comradeship, of freedom, of peace and plenty for all.”

Comrade Crabbe then read a message from the American Committee for the Relief of European Workers, which Antoinette helped found and of which she was Chairman. The letter, sent by Rose Karsner on behalf of the Committee, declared that “Our best memorial to Antoinette is to redouble our efforts. She herself expressed this unflagging spirit and determination time and again.”

Rose Karsner quoted the last letter sent by Antoinette to the Committee, Comrade Crabbe brought the services to a close by reading this letter, which vividly conveyed the fighting spirit of the great pioneer Communist and Trotskyist.

“I know that we now have an enthusiastic fighting group,” said the letter in part, “which has the inspiration to continue the energetic struggle started by us older comrades; a young group with more knowledge, more assurance, historically nearer the goal than their predecessors.

“To these young comrades and friends, I appeal now to concentrate their well-proved energy, their splendid abilities on the important burdensome job of relieving the physical sufferings of our co-workers in Europe and other countries. I turn to you, my young comrades and friends, to take upon yourselves the obligations which old and ill comrades like myself are not in condition to fulfill.”

Last Farewell

At the grave, comrades and friends assembled to bid Antoinette a last farewell. Comrade Frank called for a minute of silence. With fists clenched, the crowd gave the last Communist salute to this heroine of the Trotskyist movement. Antoinette’s words of eight years ago, commemorating the founding of the Fourth International in 1938, express exactly how we felt at the flower-strewn grave as we recalled that inspiring voice we would never hear again:

“We place in your hands a banner unsoiled. Many times it was dragged into the mud. We lifted it up and lovingly cleansed it to give it to you. Under the red banner of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky, you will conquer.

‘You Will Conquer’

“And when that great moment arrives, pause for a moment and think of us, who will not be with you at that glorious time, and say: ‘Comrades, sleep in peace. The work has been done!’”

* “Jewish” was a term commonly used synonymously in this period for the Yiddish language. – Transcriber

Last updated on: 18 June 2021